Monday, November 7, 2011

India awash in goodwill gestures and corruption a-plenty....

Zioconned India awash in goodwill gestures and corruption a-plenty....

By M K Bhadrakumar

Overcoming the adversarial mindset on the other side of the "wall" is never easy. It not only takes time, it often involves a leap of faith. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment of 1974 lives on eternally despite the "non-existence" of the USSR and its restrictions on Jewish emigration; its repeal is solely now the function of politics in the United States - and not of Russian policy or politics.

The analogy helps comprehend to an extent the meaning of the decision Pakistan took last week to accord "most-favored nation" (MFN) status to India in trade relations. It took a decade-and-a-half for Pakistan to reciprocate India's own MFN decision of 1996.

The Pakistani government has shown statesmanship. But, curiously, it is also brilliant realpolitik. The meaning and the deft

timing of the decision hold much significance for regional security and stability. How did this happen?

If wishes had wings ...
Intrinsically, the blossom appears as a precocious, unseasonal flowering out of a mere sapling - the sapling of "dialogue" between the two countries, which is still tender and vulnerable to blight.

The dialogue process began originally under persistent United States prodding, but has since been struggling to come into its own although it survived the chill in the US-Pakistan relationship. In the US calculus originally, India-Pakistan normalization would go hand-in-hand with its overall regional AfPak strategy, thereby creating synergy. In the event, though, disequilibrium appeared with the virtual collapse of the US's AfPak strategy.

But Islamabad has taken a rational decision to keep appreciating India's "neutrality" vis-a-vis the US-Pakistan standoff. Thus, two weeks ago, when an Indian military helicopter with three senior army officers on board strayed in bad weather deep into Pakistani territory in the super-sensitive Siachen sector in Kashmir, general headquarters in Rawalpindi took the decision to allow the helicopter to return within a matter of hours - a rare gesture (for both sides) in the chronicle of their troubled relationship.

The MFN decision gives further confirmation that the Pakistani leadership wishes to continue on the dialogue track with India, regardless of the deepening chill in Islamabad's ties with Washington.

Pakistan's approach is rational insofar as it needs to focus single-mindedly on finessing its standoff with the US and also grapple with the existential questions of the Afghan endgame - the Durand Line, the Pashtunistan issue and a "Talibanization" of the AfPak region - rather than get sidetracked in a skirmish with India in the Hindu Kush.

In political terms, though, Pakistan's statesmanlike approach puts pressure on India to reciprocate. India needs to come up with something "doable" like its MFN decision to take the normalization process forward.

Therein hangs a tale. The sensible thing for India would be to put into the pipeline one or two eminently "doable" issues - for example water or land disputes - on which agreement is possible. Ideally, agreement on one or two of such issues could even be an occasion for Manmohan to undertake a long-awaited visit to Pakistan. That is, if wishes had wings.

Cutting edge
The point is, through its MFN decision, Islamabad poses a profound question to the Indian leadership as to what kind of long-term relationship the two countries should aim at. The MFN decision may appear as merely a confidence-building measure (CBM). Growing trade and investment relations could surely create a climate of trust and confidence in which the two countries could have the presence of mind to address intractable differences.

In sum, this is also a CBM with a cutting edge for the geopolitics of the region. The heart of the matter is that India prefers to focus more and more on China as its principal national security challenge and would like to "downgrade" its Pakistan problem as a sideshow. But in reality, the two foreign-policy challenges are intertwined and will remain so for the conceivable future - although, whatever China does in Pakistan is becoming increasingly less and less "India-centric".

The trickiest part for Indian diplomacy is going to be the modernization program for its armed forces, with spending running in excess of US$100 billion in arms purchases in the short term. Besides, India also plans to increase the size of its 1.1 million-strong army by 10%.

This is largely projected as a response to India's threat perceptions of China. The country's dismal intellectual climate discourages any real debate as regards the impact of the militarization on India's political economy or as to how this militarization would play out in regional politics.

But the resultant "strategic imbalance" with India is going to create angst in the Pakistani mind. In fact, this angst already impacts on Pakistan's relationship with the US - and indirectly on its participation in the "war on terror" in Afghanistan. The US, on its part, pillories Pakistan incessantly for its "doublespeak" on the Afghan war while at the same time not missing out on a single opportunity to cash in on India's arms bazaar.

Even in the midst of the current standoff in ties with Pakistan, while stridently demanding that Pakistan should "squeeze" its "strategic assets" - the Haqqani network - the US secured a back-to-back firm booking from India for yet another six pieces of C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft worth billions of dollars and the Pentagon showed a willingness to work with India on its futuristic fifth-generation stealth-fighter aircraft.

In sum, the geopolitics of the region cast a shadow on the India-Pakistan relationship as much as their bilateral disputes and differences. In a major policy speech in Washington on Friday, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns described the Asia-Pacific as the "strategic pivot" of US foreign policy and said that American and Indian strategies in the region "reinforce each other". He put the commencement of a US-Japan-India strategic dialogue in such a perspective.

Significantly, India is also extending backroom support for the US's New Silk Road project as well as its initiative to create an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe-type regional security organization encompassing Central and South Asia, both of which principally aim at rolling back Russian and Chinese influence in these regions. It would also counter the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The US had hoped that these two regional initiatives (which are tacitly supported by India) would gain habitation at the recent Istanbul conference on Afghanistan once they were packaged as integral to the "stabilization" of that country. But an interesting regional line-up - Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran - thoroughly demolished Washington's stratagem.

Horns of dilemma
On the other hand, Russia and China have countered US expansion into Central Asia by deciding to expedite the SCO membership of India and Pakistan. The SCO's heads of governments meeting in St Petersburg on November 7 is expected to take the formal decision in this regard.

Indeed, the SCO is uniquely placed to provide a regional canopy beneath which India and Pakistan could learn to work on issues of regional security such as Afghanistan. But Delhi has taken a stance that in essence favors a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan.

Even more significant is that Delhi is considering a proposal by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) regarding cooperation in the sharing of technology in the field of missile defense (ABM) and for initiating a strategic dialogue process on the pattern of what Delhi already has with the US (and would now be having with the US and Japan - and possibly including Australia at a future date.)

A top NATO official said in Brussels in September, "You [India] have a missile threat that confronts you. We have a missile threat that confronts us. It's a different one, but our ability to defend against it could be the same ... We need to work together and resolve. We need to cooperate, because individually we cannot deal with such threats. It is better to deal with such issues commonly than deal with them individually."

An unnamed US official attached to NATO promptly chipped in that ABM was also of interest to the US-India partnership and "could be more a US-Indian relationship than NATO-Indian. But we are getting into ballistic missile defense systems in a big way ... we have knowledge you can share and we can train together."

The US and NATO are unabashedly tapping into Sino-Indian tensions while offering India ABM cooperation. US President Barack Obama's administration is pressing ahead with the deployment of the ABM components in Europe - Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Spain - and is prospecting for new locations in the Asian theater. India could be a location, alongside Australia, South Korea and Japan.

Russia's ability to stop India from linking up with the US and NATO's ABM system is limited, but the Russian-Chinese decision to offer SCO membership to India can be seen against the geopolitics of the US's ABM deployments in Asia. (Burns' speech on Friday effusively hailed that Delhi's famous "Look East" policy is finally transforming as an "Act East" policy.)

Indeed, Delhi's final decision with regard to NATO's ABM program offer will be the clincher in regional security, since it will not only strengthen the US-led security architecture in the region but also dent India's relations with Russia and China (as well as Iran and Pakistan).

Pakistan's MFN decision meshes with the "counter-move" by Russia and China to expedite SCO membership for India. Both put India's famously pro-American Manmohan on the horns of a classic dilemma. He has always prided himself to be an ardent advocate of India-Pakistan and India-China normalization.

But his embarrassment today would be that it doesn't suit him to have such normalization processes taking place under the SCO canopy, whereas Pakistan feels far more comfortable with the SCO processes than with Pax Americana.

This strategic divergence is glaring as the SCO heads of government meet in St Petersburg to take the momentous decision on the membership of India and Pakistan. Those present include the prime ministers of Russia, China and Pakistan - and India's minister for power (electricity).